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House votes to put back funding for veterans home

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There is a lot to report and I’ll start with the good news. The revenue estimates are up as of March 15. The Legislative Fiscal Division estimate for 2011, 2012 and 2013 has improved by $63.5 million over last December’s numbers.

This is not as high as the February projection. A federal change in depreciation tax will cost Montana $20.5 million, according to the Montana Department of Revenue. Also there is anticipated corporate and gaming losses. The governor’s budget office has a much larger estimate.

They predict $100 million more than the legislative analyst. Many stakeholders want the legislature to use the largest estimates in order to increase spending. I’m glad we are planning for more money, but I’d like to put it in the bank.

Government will spend all the money you give. Remember the nearly billion dollar surplus we had in 2007? The Republicans wanted to reduce property taxes permanently. Instead, the Governor gave every homeowner and renter a one-time $400 refund.

We will see economic improvement but if gasoline goes to up to $5 it will be slow. The state’s highest income year was 2008. In 2009 we used the ARRA, or federal stimulus, money to hold up our economy. Now we have to fill those holes and still add for inflation.

A Montana court says that we owe $43 million in a Libby settlement. And our employee retirement systems are not actuarially sound. I am working on a bill draft to put new natural resource development money into the plans. I had help with this idea but it is very late to introduce even a revenue bill.

The senate has changed the budget bill, HB 2. They put in the rest of the funding for the Big Sky Rx program and the Area Agencies on Aging. In the House we put back in the funding for the Columbia Falls Veterans Home. I did vote to do this, but I think we need to evaluate privatizing in the future.

The senate sent over the MEPA reform bill. The environmental standards remain the same, but the bill makes it more difficult to sue projects. This will help us use our natural resources. There are nearly 150 oil rigs in North Dakota and 8 in Montana. Each rig is estimated to support 128 jobs.

Last Friday we had an interesting debate on the House floor. SB 279 would allow legislative security personnel that have permits to carry weapons in the Capitol. One representative suggested taser guns, but Representative Lavin, a highway patrolman in real life said, “Never bring a taser to a gun fight.”

That was humorous, but the issue is really serious. I know two representatives who have received death threats this session.

Coming up soon: business equipment tax reduction, school funding plans, charter schools, and property tax repair plans. Stay tuned and please continue to contact me with any questions or comments.

I never forget that I work for you. Leave me a message at (406) 444-4800, my cell (406) 253-8766 or email jannataylor@montana.com.

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